By Norma Damashek / Numbers Runner Blogspot
I was out for a mindful walk the other morning. Here’s how I once described it: you put one foot in front of the other while you notice what’s around you. First you notice… then you let it go. Notice… let it go… notice…
Walking through the parking lot of my local Vons I noticed a small card table near the store entrance and, behind it, a (paid) signature gatherer. Sign this for a new soccer stadium? he asked, offering me a pen.
I smiled no. I let it go… went inside… bought three pears plus a squeeze bottle of chocolate syrup (good for any emergency)… emerged from the store… noticed a nice-looking man at the card table talking to the signature gatherer.
In his left hand he hefted a voluminous ballot proposal (weighed more than a sack of potatoes) to Replace-Qualcomm-Stadium-in-Mission-Valley-With-a-SoccerCity. He was smiling and shaking the signature gatherer’s hand while a nice-looking woman snapped a photo.
Mindful walking puts me in a genial mood. Don’t tell me you’ve read the entire backup report! I kidded. Well, he said, still smiling… most of it.
I noticed the sign-in sheet on the table. At the bottom of a short list of signatures it read: Michael Stone. Could this be the founder of FS Investors, the promoter of the ballot proposal in question? I meditated on that for a moment. Let it go?… I couldn’t…
Oh, I know who you are, I said. Your map museum is fantastic. I just love it. But I sure don’t love your ballot initiative.
Why not? he asked, maintaining a genial face. Nothing’s perfect… it’s better than a huge parking lot… do you have a better suggestion for what to put there?
It’s not that I haven’t given a lot of thought to Mission Valley. It’s not that I haven’t noticed how we transformed a green riverbed into a noxious, exhaust-laden slapdash of strip-malls, dowdy motels, and cookie-cutter condos – a poster child for neo-blight and terminal urban uglification.
So what’s one more nail in its coffin? Why not let it go? One of these days it’ll be developer Mike Stone or it’ll be one of the others (take your pick: Doug Manchester, John Moores, Tom Sudberry, the Fentons, Oliver McMillin…) wearing a big, fat, satiated smile.
Here’s the sentiment I conveyed to the genial fellow smiling at me in front of Vons: no matter the pros and cons, no matter my personal preferences, no matter how you look at it – the latest rage of using ballot initiatives for the purpose of city planning and large-scale urban, suburban, and rural development is a pernicious and destructive pursuit. He shrugged. What else can you do in a city like ours? It was a rhetorical question.
I shook hands with my new acquaintance and went back to my mindful walk. I tried… I tried… but I couldn’t let it go.
Is he right? that the only thing you can you do in a city like ours (insider code for puny leadership and nasty NIMBY neighborhoods) is to take matters into your own well-connected, wealth-laden hands and finance a ballot initiative that trashes dependable environmental review, deceives the voters, and blithely ignores the public interest?
It could be that the guy is halfway right. Puny leadership is a standard staple in a city like ours.
About a week ago I commented on how close our hometown elected officials are to us constituents. And I noticed that these individuals are not equipped to resolve many of the city’s complex problems. Despite neighborhood planning workshops on local projects, despite city council hearings about city-wide problems, despite appointed committees doing technical work, despite nonprofits and volunteer agencies picking up the slack, despite the mayor’s scripted platitudes – we’re still left trying to penetrate a sea of silence and blank stares.
After last Monday’s marathon homelessness council session we’re still dangling. Who’s in charge? Who’s responsible? Who’s answerable? Who’s identifiable? Who’s voice can we count on? Who will move our city beyond bandaids? Where does the buck stop? Does that sainted buck even exist?
As for the billion dollar question about Mission Valley/ Qualcomm Stadium – shouldn’t mindful planning for the future of our city be in the hands of responsible, sturdy professionals in a reconstituted San Diego Planning Department? Shouldn’t the city have a responsible, sturdy, professional Planning Director and City Architect? Shouldn’t the public and our elected officials have access to independent, informed, realistic, and exciting options for our city’s future growth and development that could benefit all San Diegans?
I’ve come to a mindful understanding: the elite group of private profiteers, downtown interests, land developers, hoteliers, and the legal and financial services that serve them don’t ever intend to relinquish their controlling iron grip on the city of San Diego. It seems they feel genuinely entitled to run the show.
Furthermore, they’re perfectly right about San Diego’s puny leadership. But for them it’s a golden opportunity that yields lucrative benefits and they’re adept at eliminating elected officials who dare to flex their muscles. For those of us on the public side of the fence, puny leadership is a brick wall, a dead end.
They’re also right about the nasty NIMBY. For them, community voices impede private wealth accumulation. For the rest of us it’s one of the few strengths our neighborhoods possess. It’s a defense that isn’t easily snookered by genial, fast-talking faces.
So I’m sure you know what to do when they try to hand you a pen. Notice… and let it go.
Philly Joe Swendoza says
Isn’t it about time to wean ourselves off the adolescent pandering for big-time pro sports? What’s wrong with the old school pattern of local teams being sponsored by a local business to play softball, basketball, etc. just for bragging rights & a cold beer? More exercise because more people will play instead of sitting & watching others play. Less of the corruption & misrepresentation that follows big-time pro sports wherever it goes. Where is it registered in heaven that the NFL, MLB, NBA, MLS, NCAA, etc. are eternal? After all, just over 100 years ago, the most popular American spectator & participant sports were cycle & walking races. Yes, bigger than horse racing, boxing, cock fighting, baseball, you name it. Come to think about it, aren’t big-time professional sports today nothing but cock fighting between billionaire oligarchs milking the public?
Norma Damashek says
Have to admit that some of the most mild-mannered men in my life have great affection for the big-time pro sports you enumerate (I love them anyway). From what I’ve noticed, sporty conversation with fellow-watchers and a couple of hours of escape from high pressure jobs is, for them, like manna from heaven.
But if they know what’s good for them they’ll refuse to be hijacked by slick-talking stadium developers. Been there, done that, enough’s enough.
And just because you happen to be crazy about soccer and see it as a great hands-across-the-border-opportunity, misleading ballot initiatives are no way to run a city.
Norma Damashek says
Philly Joe — let me clarify: the crazy about soccer comment was not about you…
Philly Joe Swendoza says
Growing up, I played every sport listed here & beyond. All the benefits that big time professional sports promises to deliver I got as a nonprofessional, growing boy. They did not go away when I clearly was not going to make the team, any more than the benefits I got from playing the guitar went away, even after I knew Eric Clapton I was not. For too many grown men, pro sports is not an activity, but a game of gambling. For others it is a construction project. For most it is an irrelevant, but costly relic of boyhood lost. BTW, Norma, world pro soccer is the most corrupt sport on the planet as well as the most boring. It is truly only good for playing, not watching.
Just as with the recent downtown stadium proposal, San Diego must examine what is the best highest use of the location. Because those 166 acres have been a stadium for so long, it can be harder to see the Qualcomm parcel as anything else but a sports-oriented venue.
I agree with Mr. Swendoza (I often do, but this time 150%): there does not HAFTA BE a sports facility there. San Diego should – and MUST – look at re-developing The Q without one. I’m not – NOT! – saying we should (architecturally, I love The Q). But, just as keeping and refurbishing Qualcomm should be considered, no stadium must be one of the choices.
And, I agree with Ms. Damashek about the same: absotively posilutely do NOT sign the petition for yet another ballot-box planning initiative intended to short-cut the oh-so-onerous “permitting process.” If it gets on the ballot (it will) work against it and vote against it.
Piece-meal planning is not really planning. The fate of the Qualcomm parcel must be weighed in the context of the whole of Mission Valley and the next 50 to 100 years (as long as there’s no great flood).
The developer is not interested in the highest use for the city and building for the future; developers simply develop. That’s what FS Investors wants to do.
Yes….I vote SDSU to have the land for a wast campus and Stadium. Education is or cities future……not making rich white guys richer or banking on a sport that Mexicans and girls under 11 play.
bob dorn says
Agreed. The Q failed to attract enough supporters in a town where football has to compete with beaches and mountains and the best weather in the United States, which makes possible participant — not professional — sports. What drives me crazy is that all that acreage is going to be put in the hands, yet again, of people whose only motive is giant profits secured for the rest of their lives. Gawd, it ought to be possible for intelligent people to build affordable housing and small-scale trade operations like plumbers and electricians, and good Mex food, and a library in support of a new school, and, and, and… That should excite the imagination in citizens who’ve started to awaken to the land-scam of people like Sanders/Faulconer/Manchester/C. Arnholt/Horton and lots of other non-believers.
John Gallup says
Well said! If there’s an orderly and inclusive process for determining the highest and best use for excess city property, we should use it.
Norma Damashek says
And how about reconsidering the idea that “highest and best use” always has to mean “financially most profitable”? Highest and best use could easily be argued for a new playground or (gulp!) some public housing.
I would go so far as to say that “highest and best” seldom includes financially profitable. After all, we’re talking governing here, not business intended to make money.